Lucky us to have gotten snow relatively early this year all the way down to the valley floors. The skiing was deep this early December. The avalanche danger was a high 3 because the layer on the ground had turned to facets. This is not an unusual situation. It happens when we get early snow in the autumn then cold, dry weather afterwards. Because the ground is relatively warm, around -.1, and the air is cold, -15 in the alpine areas, this shallow layer of snow grows into faceted crystals that can’t support the weight of new snow. As the winter progresses, it gets covers with new lawyers of snow which eventually bond to each other and create a bridge over this weak ground layer. When we have a lot of snow, this bridge insulates our impact on this weak layer. So you’ll understand what the avalanche forecasters have been writing about these past two weeks:
These avalanche prone locations are to be found especially in little used terrain and at transitions from a shallow to a deep snowpack.
The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF today
The weather forecast calls for sunny weather for another week, then possibly more snow and higher temperatures.
The driest December in this area since measurements began in 1864 created new challenges for a mountain guide like myself. I could have behaved like Chicken Little and believed the end was near, or rather taken advantage of those conditions. The foehn episode that dried the northern Alps in November, coated the southern Alps with a lovely layer of fresh powder. Living close to that main divide here in Verbier, my clients and I profited from the situation, ski touring and heliskiing in the south, and hiking and climbing in the north.
For those who enjoy being outside no matter the weather and conditions, I’ve found it so rewarding to share these mini adventures with you. Thank you! The following 20 pictures show some of our days together on skis, skins and foot, enjoying what mother nature provides.
October snows, leading to November snows, leading to December sun! Conditions are excellent at altitude, resembling prime alpine conditions of spring time. A stable snowpack in the high mountains has stuck to many of the icey faces that often don’t see snow until spring. Isolated areas, protected from the November Foehn winds, give rise to primo conditons for steep skiing in boot top powder.
For those of you who have heard about the ISTA method of avalanche training, I am a certified ISTA instructor, offering group and private avalanche courses. After spending a few days with me, talking about snow metamorphism and slope analysis, you will feel more capable to understand and analyse the untracked slopes you want ski.
This gorgeous weather is forecasted to be with us for another week, when this high pressure system should weaken, allowing more humidity to make its way onto the continent. Have fun skiing that boot top pow!
As the cold rain pitter patters outside my window, it’s snow at altitude, shutting down my current summer alpine dreams. My thoughts skim back over these past few days, weeks and into last year’s snows. It’s been a fun and relaxing summer with family, friends, and clients, new and old.
Fi and I mixed it up, climbing the Nadelhorn last week, then spending a wonderful day on the Jagihorn, cruising up delightful granit under a warm, blue sky.
Fiona near the summit of the Nadelhorn
Yours truly nearing the summit of the Nadelhorn.
Fi climbing high on the Jagihorn
I had some nice days with my two “kids” on local rock.
Anya climbing local rock
And a super week with Susan, preparing for the Matterhorn.
Susan Dennard on the top of the Matterhorn.
I’m preparing for another fun winter season, scheduling early winter avalanche courses and off-piste ski days. Contact me as soon as you know your winter schedule so we can share more fun adventures together. Maybe we’ll get another November start like last year’s!